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The big question in certain Italian media circles yesterday, a question that also made some headlines as far as the Netherlands, was: did Pope Francis perform an exorcism on Sunday?
Footage shows the Holy Father conversing with a young man in a wheelchair and the priest accompanying him, before placing his hands on the boy’s head and praying for a short while. While the footage is blurred to protect the boy’s identity, we can see him reacting, his mouth open, as the pope prays. It’s a short encounter, but one in which certain people have read much. They point out that the Pope, upon hearing the aforementioned priest seemingly describing what ails the boy, looks suddenly very concerned and immediately places his hands on the boy’s head. The look, the intensity of the prayer and the boy’s reaction, they say, indicate that an exorcism was performed.
But there are some serious questions to be asked about this reading of events. In the first place, Vatican sources have denied that what occurred was anything but prayer and blessing – in itself powerful and moving enough. Furthermore, as Father Anton ten Klooster has pointed out, an exorcism will most likely never take place on such short notice, in such a public location and by a priest (in this case, the Pope), who is unprepared to do it.
An example of wishful thinking fueled by enthusiasm, it would seem. But it does point towards something interesting: exorcisms are a reality. They do take place, although probably not in the same way certain movies would have us believe. Pope Francis has referred several times to the devil, in very clear terms. It is an uncomfortable thing to believe, but as Catholics we are asked to do so. The devil is a reality, and so are possessions.
So, can the Pope exorcise demons? With the right preparation, certainly. Did he so in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday? Definitely not.
What is it with Popes and pigeons (or should I say doves) anyway? The latter seem to rather reluctant to leave the former’s presence,. It happened to Pope Francis earlier this week, and to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in January of 2012.
Whatever the reason, it is all a timely reminder of Pentecost approaching… Two more days to go.
As expected, there was little fuss about the return of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI to the Vatican. A welcome by Cardinals Bertello, Sodano and Bertone and assorted other prelates, followed by a simple welcome by Pope Francis at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery.
No speeches, no formalities, just a beloved father coming home.
Many hope that Pope Francis will undertake something of an overhaul of the Roman Curia, to bring it up to date and make it more efficient. But a Dutch cardinal may have proposed much the same thing more than 80 years ago, so Sandro Magister suggests. Citing a recently published book from the Vatican Secret Archives in honour of its vice-prefect, Dutch Father Marcel Chappin S.J., Magister discusses an older work, published anonymously in 1931. It offers strong criticism against the bishops and Curia of the time.
“Aliquando autem totus episcopatus alicuius nationis ita est compositus, veluti si coecorum, claudorum et infirmorum omne genus esset refugium,” (Sometimes, however, the whole of the episcopate of a country is composed as if it were a place of refuge for the blind, the lame, and the sick of all kinds.)
Harsh words, but who wrote them? The only hint is a synonym: “Paulus Bernardus a S. Catharina“. And there are some who say that this is, in fact, Willem Marinus Cardinal van Rossum, in 1931 the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The reasons for thinking that he is behind the writings is, to me at least, obscure, as no element of the synonym seems to be linked to the person of Cardinal van Rossum.But, then again, as a member of the very Curia he so strongly criticises, Cardinal van Rossum may well have had reason to keep his identity secret.
On Tuesday, Bishop Dominique Rey gave an update about the Sacra Liturgia conference taking place next month in Rome. There are some interesting points he made which make this conference of special importance to anyone with some interest in the liturgy and its celebration. And, to be honest, as Catholics we all do, whether we’re aware of that or not. But let’s let the good bishop explain (with some emphases by me):
“Thank you for your presence this evening.
Sacra Liturgia 2013 is an event that follows on from the Adoratio 2011 Conference that I organised at the Salesianum in Rome two years ago. Inspired by the Year of Faith called to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and following on from the Synod on the New Evangelisation, I wanted to bring together key cardinals, bishops and other noted experts in the liturgy from around the world to underline the fact that formation in the sacred liturgy and its correct celebration is of the first importance in the life and mission of the Church.
I would like to emphasise this point: grace has a primacy in all our activities. The liturgy is the continuing action of Jesus Christ in His Church. It is where we encounter Christ and receive the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for Christian life and mission. The New Evangelisation must be founded on the worthy celebration of the liturgy, and for that we need good liturgical formation.
This event was also inspired by the liturgical teaching of Benedict XVI. We are holding the conference in Rome, at the Pontifical University Santa Croce, in order to be close to Peter, and our delegates hope to join with our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, at the Mass of Saints Peter and Paul in St Peter’s Basilica.
The conference itself will be a time of shared reflection, study and celebration on different aspects of the liturgy and the mission of the Church. The programme is published on the conference website, but I would highlight the Keynote address of His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith: “The Sacred Liturgy, culmen et fons vitæ et missionis ecclesiæ” which will in many ways set the tone for the different and specific presentations that will follow.
The liturgical celebrations of Vespers and Holy Mass in the Basilica of St Apollinare will be in both forms of the Roman rite: there does not need to be any opposition between the two. The correct celebration of both have their rightful place in the Church of the New Evangelisation.
At this time we expect delegates from approximately 25 different countries. They include bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and religious as well as lay men and women. Facilities will be available for delegates to listen to translations in French, English, Italian, Spanish and German. There is more information on the conference website www.sacraliturgia.com in each of those languages…”
Liturgy. Important stuff.
Cardinal Ranjith will give his address on the first day, in the evening of 25 June, with only the celebration of Vespers and the introduction, both by Bishop Rey, preceding it. The Latin bit of the title of this address means “source and summit of the life and mission of the Church”: an apt description of the liturgy from which many other topics flow.
It looks like Bishop Rey has a very clear purpose with this conference. I think it’s therefore apt to start a short series of profiles on some of the speakers with him. Hopefully I’ll be able to get it out sometime tomorrow morning.
Lastly, for those wondering why I choose to pay such specific attention to this conference: firstly, I myself am interested in the liturgy, so this conference is quite up my alley, and secondly, I was asked to do so. I am quite happy to respond to such request, and grateful that my little blog has apparently been noticed enough to warrant such a request.
It’s not really a surprise, as Pope Francis’ intention to restructure the Roman Curia had been discussed and speculated about since his election - in fact, it was a major topic during the pre-conclave General Congregations. Never having been a curial cardinal himself, Pope Francis has decided to appoint a group of eight cardinals to help him in this process: the first concrete step towards a possible future restructuring. But what is noticeable is that only one of the members of this group comes from the Curia. It seems that a multinational group of non-curial prelates will have a major say about the future of the Curia.
Oscar Andrés Cardinal Maradiaga Rodríguez, archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras), will act as coordinator of the group, and Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano (Italy) will be secretary. The remaining six members are:
Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, President of the Governatorate of Vatican City State
Francisco Javier Cardinal Errazuriz Ossa, Archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile (Chile)
Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (India)
Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of München und Freising (Germany)
Laurent Cardinal Monswengo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston (United States)
George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney (Australia)
This seems to be an answer to the desire of several cardinals, among them Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, that a group of cardinals be established to assist the Pope in the management of the Church. The difference here though, is that the current group of eight will only assist the Pope in one very specific matter not unlike the group of three that Pope Benedict XVI tasked with investigating the VatiLeaks case last year.
Aside from the general task of advising the Pope in the government of the Church, the Group of 8 will study a lan for revising Pastor Bonus, the Apostolic Constitution by which Blessed Pope John Paul II launched a number of revisions to the Curia in 1998. The general expectation and hope seems to be that certain offices will be merged or even suppressed to achieve a more effective Curia without the excessive careerism that many have noted has been preventing a smooth running of the Curial duties.
The Group of 8 will first meet in October, although Pope Francis is in contact with all of them (and with the Holy Father we may assume that that is certainly true – after all, he is not averse to picking up the phone to whoever he needs to speak to).
Photo credit: CNS
In an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission (of which Dutch Bishop Jan Liesen is a member), Pope Francis shone a light on the Catholic understanding of the Bible. This is an ever-necessary effort, as there is still much confusion and misunderstanding on exactly how the Bible fits in our faith and tradition.
In his address, the Holy Father explained:
“As we know, the Holy Scriptures are the testimony in written form of God’s Word, the canonical memorial that attests to the event of Revelation. The Word of God, therefore, precedes and exceeds the Bible. It is for this reason that the center of our faith is not only a book, but a history of salvation and especially a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Precisely because the Word of God embraces and extends beyond Scripture to understand it properly we need the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who “guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13). It should be inserted within the current of the great Tradition which, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Magisterium, recognized the canonical writings as the Word addressed by God to His people who have never ceased to meditate and discover its inexhaustible riches. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this with great clarity in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God “(n. 12).”
What we may gather from this is that the Bible does not exist in isolation: it is not a book that came into being as we know it today. Instead, it grew, developed and exists not for its own purpose, but to communicate the Word of God. And a second important point is the role of Tradition, the magisterium, and – not least – the Holy Spirit, which act as interpreters of this Word.
We are a Religion of the Book, but our religion is not about the book. It is about what - who - the book is about. And that gives us a hint about how we should relate to the Bible. As Pope Francis explains later:
“The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures cannot be only an individual scientific effort, but must always confront itself with, be inserted within and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church. This norm is essential to specify the correct relationship between exegesis and the Magisterium of the Church. The texts inspired by God were entrusted to the Community of believers, the Church of Christ, to nourish the faith and guide the life of charity.”
The nature of the Bible tells us how it relates to us and the greater body of faith. We should receive it as it was given: the testimony of the Word of God for the community of faithful.
One of the dangers of having a new Pope is that we see everything he says and does as a break from the actions and words of his predecessor. This is especially true if the charisma of the new Pope is so different than that of his predecessor.
In the short weeks since his election, Pope Francis has captured the imagination and enthusiasm of lots of people, through his easygoing nature as a people’s person, at comfortable with social interaction and obviously valuing the contacts with his coworkers, not just in the Curia, but also the people working the kitchens, offices and streets of the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI is clearly a more private man, appreciating the quiet of his study and his books, of contemplation and the written word. That is not to say that he avoided people, or that Pope Francis is a stranger to solitude and careful thoughts, but for the sake of this blog post, the difference is certainly noticeable.
Does this make the one Pope better than the other? Obviously not. But there is risk that we start thinking of the one we most easily identify with as the origin of many seemingly new thoughts and actions.
Today, Pope Francis told Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, to continue “along the lines set by Benedict XVI, act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse”. Many media, both secular and Catholic, reported this today as a new position taken by the Holy Father, as a tougher stance on sexual abuse. This is, as the official blurb says, quite untrue. Pope Francis wants to continue what Pope Benedict started.
Of course, Pope Francis’ recommendation is praiseworthy, but it must not be understood as a divergence from the path taken by Pope Benedict XVI. It is a continuation. By presenting it otherwise, we unfairly pit the one Pope against the other, and depict Pope Benedict as somehow not as good as Pope Francis. And why? Only because Benedict is less of a people’s person, more retiring and at ease with decorum and ritual than Pope Francis is.
It is true, both Popes are different, but neither exists in isolation. Father Z is right when he says that we should “read Francis through Benedict“. If we don’t, we not only run the risk of misunderstanding either man, but also of being guilty of deception and, in fact, superficiality.
The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will not be moving to the Apostolic Palace “for now”, but will remain living in the suite at the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he moved immediately to following his election has been presented as quite a break with tradition. And in a way it is, but a cursory glance at the history of the papacy reveals it’s not that big a deal as some would have us think.
The Apostolic Palace is located to the right of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica and includes the Papal Apartments at the top right corner. Popes have been using the Palace as their official residence since the 17th century, although they didn’t actually live there at the time. Their residence was the Quirinal Palace, which now lies outside the borders of Vatican City and is the home of the President of Italy. The Papal Apartments were used the official residence of the Popes in their capacity as Supreme Pontiff. The Quirinal Palace served the same purpose for their role as temporal ruler of the Papal States.
The Papal States were conquered by the Italian unification armies in the 1870s and Blessed Pope Pius IX became a “prisoner in the Vatican”. The Apostolic Palace was the only part of the Papal States not occupied by the Italians.
So the Apostolic Palace has only served as the fulltime residence of the Popes since 1870. That’s not a long time in the entire history of the Church. But to say that the Popes did not live in some form of (relative) luxury before 1870 is not true. There was the Quirinal Palace, and before that several residences attached to basilicas in Rome and the Lateran Palace, going back to the 4th century. And Pope Francis, in refusing to move to the Apostolic Palace, hardly makes a choice for poverty. The Domus Sanctae Marthae is a very adequate personal residence, although it admittedly has a far smaller surface area than the Papal Apartments.
In his current residence, Pope Francis has the use of a sitting room, a study (pictured), a bedroom and a private bathroom. There are also a shared dining room and four chapels. Comparing that to the Papal Apartments: that features a chapel, an office for the Pope and one for his secretaries, a bedroom, a dining room, a kitchen and rooms for two secretaries and the household staff. Most of these spaces will continue to see use, as Pope Francis will pray the Angelus from one of its windows and receive guests in the building’s library. Undoubtedly, the secretaries’ office will also continue to be used.
Pope Francis’ choice not to relocate to the other side of St. Peter’s Square effectively allows him some more freedom and keeps him in touch with the people working at the Vatican, something he greatly values.
Concelebrating yesterday’s Mass with the Holy Father, among others, was Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. He was visible every now and then on he Vatican live feed up until the homily, but was conspicuously absent afterwards. Today we learned the reason for that: Cardinal Piacenza had suffered a cardiac arrest, had fallen, and was taken to the intensive care unit of the Roman Gemelli hospital. The good news is that Cardinal Piacenza is not in mortal danger, and never was, but the episode was alarming nonetheless.
Extra prayers for the good cardinal who, in the eyes of more than a few, has good chances of new and greater duties in the Curia under Pope Francis.
Photo credit: afp